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Is Indianapolis Ready To Host 67 Basketball Games For NCAA Tournament?

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

March Madness, the NCAA men's basketball tournament, is perhaps the most exciting event in sports. It's days of wall-to-wall games, Cinderella upsets, bracket bets based on advanced analytics - or just, you know, who has the best mascot. It's also an event that typically sends dozens of teams and their fans to venues all around the country, 67 games that in COVID-19 times represent 67 potential superspreader events. That's why it was canceled last year. This year, the entire tournament will have one host. Every game will take place at one of six venues in and around Indianapolis.

So is the city ready? Well, we spoke with Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett about that.

JOE HOGSETT: Well, since last year, Audie, we've hosted over 50 events and conventions throughout the pandemic. Some of those have involved local sports teams. Some of them have been tournament competition in volleyball and cheerleading. So we're practiced at bigger things - better air filtration, logistics of entering and exiting when crowds come to see events and event controls. And frankly, the NCAA has now had a season worth of experience in terms of protocols.

So in conjunction with the state Department of Health and our local health departments, we're requiring masks at all the games. There's a limit to capacity of fans at each and every venue - 25% or below will be permitted to actually be physically in the arena. And as you might imagine, all of the teams are being housed in Marion County hotels for the duration of the tournament.

CORNISH: Is there an emergency scenario where games would be canceled?

HOGSETT: Yes. Everyone is tested vigorously and regularly. And so if we do experience an outbreak - you know, which we do not anticipate and we hope we can successfully avoid - those games would either be postponed or canceled altogether, according to the NCAA's tournament rules.

CORNISH: So you're taking all these precautions, but are there scenarios that you're concerned about, things you've seen other cities go through?

HOGSETT: Yeah, I think that after the Super Bowl in Tampa Bay, when the Buccaneers were successful, the fans in Tampa Bay, at least in the TV feed that I was being given, were celebrating without masks. There was no social distancing going on. The protocols that we will follow will ensure that, to the extent that there are fans in the building, that they will be masked, that they will be socially distanced. And, frankly, we'll apply those same protocols to restaurants, to bars, for people who want to be here for the tournament and want to feel as if they're participating in the activity, but they're doing so from a third-party venue.

CORNISH: I guess the question isn't necessarily can you do it, but should you do it? And is it worth the risk, given the health concerns right now in the country?

HOGSETT: Obviously, we are mindful of those risks, and we are taking every precaution to make sure that those risks are addressed. And I do think that while risks are inescapable, I think we're capable of overcoming them and putting on a healthy and safe tournament for both participants and fans alike.

CORNISH: I'm going to put you on the spot for one more thing. The Indiana Hoosiers have a record of 12-11 (laughter). They need a signature win to make the tournament. Purdue has a better shot. Who are you rooting for?

HOGSETT: Yeah, I'd like to see as many Indiana teams make the tournament as possible. Now, I'm an IU grad, so I'll acknowledge that IU is near and dear to my heart. But we hope that there'll be several Indiana teams. Hopefully they'll be successful in the course of the tournament.

CORNISH: That's Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett. Thank you so much for your time.

HOGSETT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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